shades of SUMMER

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2. INTO THE MAW OF THE SOUTH

Aura


“We got a northerner. Send the message to the alpha.”

Alpha

The chill descended on my body and pricked at my skin hearing him referring his alpha. Cold, steely profile of Alpha Demetrius hovering over the edges of my vision but before it settled in my bones, I shook it off.

He wasn’t here. Alpha Demetrius couldn’t be here.

I reminded myself with a scold. The fingers clutching the torn dress to protect my modesty splayed over my chest to calm my quickening heartbeats. Even far away from the north, his power over me didn’t dim and snuff out. But for now, I directed my attention on the matter at hand and pushed Alpha Demetrius at the back of my mind. And for once, it wouldn’t be so difficult with the thickened verdure spread its roots over the soil, digging into my soles and everywhere my eyes could reach, it felt like I was in the belly of a green critter.

The breeze felt cool on my skin, not chilly and crispy, swishing in the north. It was more like refreshing with a balmy undertone, taking away the day’s sweat.

A strong tug on my upper arm whisked me into another winding path, cutting through the undergrowth and towards the ocherous glow striking against the settling darkness.

The trees sparsed. The glow took the shape of a campfire in an open clearing. Southerners gathered around the central fire, their bodies flushed in heat as they revelled in feasting, tattling and heads tossed back in laughter under the night sky.

As I was scuffling towards them, the fresh-roasted smell of buck and something sweet, exotic herbs hit my nose. My mouth moistened and my stomach grumbled for lack of foods for days, merely surviving on wild berries and edible roots.

Heads turned. Murmurs followed. Curious eyes watched my every move. Not with disgust. Not with admiration. More like alert and distrustful.

With his firm grip on my upper arm and fast pace, the male reminding me from time to time that he had the upper hand of the situation. The male steered me to a group of southern males at the other end, drinking mead from horns and coquetting openly with the females.

“Alpha Aillard. We caught a trespasser.” The male addressed before grabbing me on my shoulder and rammed me ahead, presenting me before his alpha. My first instinct was to cower back, turn and bolt away. But I rooted to my spot, never looked him into his eyes although several eyes encroached closer and observed me with their beady eyes.

I held my breath and waited. And waited until I felt his drunken eyes lidded down seeming disinterest before shifting to the female perched on his lap, giggling in her sloshed haze and offering him drink from her horn.

“She bears the northern mark. From Volkov pack.” The male said the last sentence in a high pitched voice and I could sense how the silence descended upon us and only the sound of crackling fire filling our breaths.

Southern Alpha jerked his head up, his drunken gaze sparked with sudden interest as if he came back to his senses. He sprang to his feet, causing the female to slip from his lap on the ground with a squeak of protest. He didn’t pay her any attention, his focused gaze set on me.

He clasped my jaw in his meaty fingers, drew my face closer and did a quick once-over, turning my head left and right.

“Skin as pale as snow. Hair glowing like winter hearths.” his fingers tugged my curls and rubbed my strands in between his fingertips. His thoughts trickled amazement in his voice.

His fingers skimmed across my shoulder and brushed back to my neck. I squeezed my eyes shut and gritted my teeth but his fingers never went past my collar bone.

His thumb hovered over my branded mark before he traced the pattern, more like rubbing my skin back and forth, at first gently then more eagerly and when he was confirmed, that the mark wasn’t going to erase, he drew back his hand and stepped back.

I sighed in relief.

“We just found what we have been searching for,” The southern alpha murmured to himself, his eyes held depths of secrets and his mind putting back the missing pieces.

“Clean her up. Give her something nice to wear and bring her back.” The guard nodded his head and turned back, tugging me with him but before we crossed the clearing the southern alpha yelled, “Don’t let her out of your sight.”

This time we didn’t take the same route, we stepped into the cover. The trees were thinly dispersed, more dirt paths running beside us and fire torches set out at pauses.

Women coming out of their houses, wearing embroidered clothes and beads around their necks. A glance at my way before they rattled on complementing each other about their clothes. Children were giggling and running away, chasing one another, all were making their way towards the central fire, I might have stumbled upon on a day of their celebration.

We passed the cottages before the male guided me towards a building made of baked clay and thatch roof.

The stinking smell hit me almost instantly and I took a step back, scrunching my nose.

“The high and mighty northerner,” The male mocked, let out a scornful laugh and pushed me inside.

A woman, short and stout, sweeping the passage between the rows of fences, where animals were kept for rearing and breeding.

She turned her head and spoke, “We are out of cheese today. Come early tomorrow, I’ll see if I can manage.”

“I’m not here for some cheese. I bring this...” The male grumbled.

“Milk then,” The woman asked. She hurriedly left her broom and when to a nearby stall.

“Listen, woman. I’m not here to buy anything. I am here...”

The woman inclined from the stall and barked, “Then stop wasting my time. Go away.”

“I need you to clean this girl. And give her something nice to wear.”

“Are you out of your mind, boy? Do I look like someone who gives bathe to people? She is not a cow.”

“Alpha’s order. Are you refusing to obey, then?” The male quipped.

She might be a woman of short stature but her spirit was not easy to back down, “I am not denying but I might say you insulted the only female here who provides the dairy products.”

The male groaned, “you know it, Tala, my mate comes here once a week. We love your cheese. Please, makes sure the girl is clean. We need to get back to the celebration.”

The woman huffed and put her hands on her waist, ” You heard him, girl, get rid off your clothes now. I don’t have time for this.”

I looked at the male and then, at the woman. Without a word, she understood what I was trying to say.

“You fool. Get out now. Wait for her outside. I’ll bring her once she is done.”

“I can’t leave her alone. I need to make sure she doesn’t run away.” The male argued back.

“There is only one way out. You guard the entrance. And you’re a fool if you think she can push this woman and get away with it.”

The male shook his head, “I’ll be standing outside the door. Don’t do anything stupid.” he pointed his words at me and left us alone.

“Come on, girl.” The woman walked away to the other side behind the stalls and I followed her. “The water in the buckets is clean. There is soap though I suggest you to leave it.” She gave a hearty laugh.

“Clean yourself. I’ll bring some clothes of my daughter, it will surely fit.”

I nodded.

The woman left and after a few minutes, she brought a dress with patterns and pigments. She dried my hair and helped me slip into the dress. The fabric felt scratchy and loose around my body.

“You hardly have any meat on your bones and you look like a lost, wild thing. I can tell you’re not from around here with your light hair. Pale skin. Where are you from, girl?”

“North,”

Her lips pulled stretched and she gave a tight nod. “Clean the dirt under your nails and come out quickly.”

I waited for her to leave me alone and sighed, leaning back into the stall.

It was only the beginning. And here I came, southern alpha.

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